ALBANY, NY – Siena is heading back to the MAAC Championship Game following one of the most remarkable halves of basketball in program history. The Saints erupted for 64 second half points – 27 of which came from hobbled guard Nico Clareth – to rally from a 17-point deficit with 17 minutes to go and stun regular season champion and No. 1 seed Monmouth 89-85 in the MAAC Semifinals at the Times Union Center.
Fourth seeded Siena (17-16) advances to the MAAC Championship Game for the first time in seven years, where the Saints will face No. 3 seed Iona Monday night at 9 p.m. at the Times Union Center. The Gaels defeated second seeded Saint Peter’s 73-65 in Sunday’s second semifinal.
After going scoreless in just three minutes of action in the opening stanza, Clareth scored all 27 of his points during a legendary second half performance. The sophomore reserve – who was a game-time decision after missing Saturday’s quarterfinal with an ankle injury – turned in a Willis Reed-like effort, shooting 8-10 from the field which included a program MAAC Tournament record seven threes in a near mythical second half.
Siena’s 2016-17 season appeared to be nearing its completion with the Saints trailing 44-27 with 17:49 remaining against a vaunted Monmouth (27-6) squad which entered play riding the nation’s second longest active winning streak at 17 straight. But that’s when Clareth embarked upon a performance that Siena Basketball fans won’t soon forget.
Clareth drained five of his triples during a 27-11 run, as the Saints almost completely erased their sizeable deficit in span of just six minutes. The Hawks clung to between a one and five-point lead over the next four minutes, before Siena finally went back in front on a layup by freshman guard Ahsante Shivers to take a 65-64 advantage with 7:34 remaining.
The teams would trade three ties and eight more lead changes over the next three minutes, before red-shirt senior forward Brett Bisping put the Saints ahead for the final time 76-75 following a pair of free throws with 4:30 to play. Siena led by no more than four points thereafter, but made their last seven clutch free throws over the final 41 seconds to record just the program’s second win in nine tries against a MAAC Tournament No. 1 seed.
Senior guard Marquis Wright scored 20 points and served as the catalyst for the Saints’ second half surge, dishing out all eight of his assists during the final stanza. Siena received numerous great looks created by Wright in shooting 63.3% (19-30) in the second half against the conference’s top field goal defense.
Senior forward Javion Ogunyemi contributed 21 points and also recorded his 200th career block for Siena, to join Monty Henderson ’89 as the only players in program history to reach that milestone. Bisping rounded out the Saints’ double figure scorers with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Two-time reigning MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson led five in double figures with 22 points for Monmouth, which entered play with an RPI of 43 and is receiving three votes in this week’s AP Top-25 Poll. Josh James added 14 points and Je’lon Hornbeak scored 13 for the Hawks who were without First Team All-MAAC selection Micah Seaborn who missed the game due to an injury suffered in Friday’s quarterfinal victory.
The Saints head into Monday night’s championship game winners of 13 of their last 18 to move above .500 for the first time since winning their season opener. Siena will now take aim at a sixth MAAC Championship and a seventh NCAA Tournament berth, but will first have to get past an Iona program which has captured all eight previous MAAC Tournament meetings between the schools.